“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” — 1 Timothy 6:12
It was November 12, 2011. Manny Pacquiao’s mind was spinning. As he sat in his corner between rounds at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a sold out welterweight title fight against arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez, he appeared to be struggling, weakened, distracted—and on the verge of defeat.
It wasn’t a feeling Pacquiao—aka “Pacman”—was used to, having amassed a 54-3-2 record in dominating eight different weight divisions throughout his 17-year career. It was what Pacquiao’s long-time trainer, the legendary Freddie Roach, called his fighter’s first bad night in ten years.
Pacquiao would eventually win the bout by the slimmest of margins in a majority decision to claim his 15th straight victory. But it served, in part, as the wake-up call he needed to reassess what was important in his life.
Manny Pacquiao is much more than one of the most successful fighters in the history of boxing. He’s a global icon and one of the best known athletes in the world. Forbes Magazine listed him as the fourth most influential athlete in the United States. Plus, as the lone congressional representative from the Sarangani province in his native Philippines, his influence is far-reaching.
Pacquiao has always been a spiritual person. He believed in God and he prayed to God, but in the life he was living, the reality of his existence wasn’t in order with his beliefs. He was still clinging to the things of the world that offered him a temporary fulfillment, but ultimately left him with feelings of emptiness.
“I prayed, I believed in God,” Pacquiao said. “But it was not enough because I kept on cheating and drinking and gambling. But when I read the Bible, I found out it’s not right. I started reading the Bible because I wanted to invest in eternal life, not the worldly life. I want to have eternal life. It’s not enough to just believe and pray if you’re not obeying. In James 2 verse 20 it says: ‘You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’ So, when I read the Bible, I know it’s my manual for life.”
As a result, Pacquiao’s entire outlook on life changed, affecting those closest to him, especially his family.
“Now, I am so happy because I’m obeying the commandments of God,” he said with a smile. “I have love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control. I have that in my life now, so I believe I have eternal life. I’m walking with eternal life. My wife is so happy with the changes. The most important thing in my life now is how I obey the commandments of God.”
Pacquiao turned away from a lifestyle of carousing, clubbing, drinking, gambling and the things the world offered him as a superstar athlete with a lot of money and fame. But it wasn’t easy.
“Many times I said to my wife, ‘I’m going to change now. I’m going to stop gambling and drinking.’ But then I cannot do it,” Pacquiao admitted. “I cannot do it. So, when I finally made a quality decision and a quality plan in my life to change and walk away from that worldly life, I can now say I’m strong to stand my ground and obey His commandments.”
Pacquiao is not only walking the walk, he’s also talking the talk by teaching the Bible and participating in daily Bible studies with his spiritual advisor, Pastor Jerry Soriano.
“We all have challenges in life,” Pastor Jerry said. “We all go through certain issues and problems. And I know Manny was searching for some answers. There was an emptiness. There was no peace. There was no joy. Although he was religious, there was still an emptiness happening in his life. And, of course, you can buy the cars, you can buy the houses, you can go on trips, but when all that is done, you go home and still there’s no peace. There’s still that emptiness. So, I believe he was searching. And in that search, he came across the word of God. And from that experience, a revelation. When he committed himself to a relationship with Jesus Christ, that filled the emptiness.”
“I obey and follow the instructions," Pacquiao added. "In Joshua 1:8 it says, ‘Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’ I meditate on the words of the Bible day and night. I follow the instruction. That’s how I get to know the commandments of God.”
It’s obvious Pacquiao’s life is drastically different today than it was just six months ago, before he renewed his relationship with God. It’s also drastically different than his life as a little boy selling bread and flour in the streets of Sarangani.
“I never expected my life to become like this,” Pacquiao said humbly. “God has blessed me and it’s time to serve Him and give encouragement to the people. My mission is to encourage people to read the Bible, to use it as their manual for life and to obey and follow the commandments of God. By reading the Bible, it will teach you and correct you and guide you into all His truth.”
As Pacquiao prepares to defend his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight championship crown against undefeated WBO junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs) on June 9 in Las Vegas, daily Bible studies are as much a part of his training as working out and eating right.
“I love to read the Bible,” he said. “The food I eat is feeding my physical body but I’m also feeding my spiritual self with the word of God. When I’m reading the Bible, I’m feeding my spirit with eternal food.”
But how does Pacquiao justify punching out opponents for a living? And will his newfound faith change the way he approaches his profession?
“Boxing is my career,” he said matter-of-factly. “My opponent authorizes me to hit him and I authorize him also to hit me. It’s not personal. We’re just doing our jobs. It’s entertainment. When I get to the ring, I change my aura into a warrior fighter. It doesn’t mean that I dislike my opponent. I love my opponent.”
“It’s a sport," Pastor Jerry added. "We play according to the rules. And this is his platform, this is the gift, the talent he is good at. So, I always tell him to be excellent, to be the best and give God the glory in the end.”
That could mean Pacquiao will be an even better fighter moving forward, a frightening proposition for his future opponents.
“In the ring, he’s with the King.” Pastor Jerry said, smiling in affirmation. “The discipline and focus he puts into boxing is the same discipline and focus he puts into the Word of God. When he goes into that ring, he tells me it’s going to be supernatural. It’s not going to be the same anymore. I like when he says to me, ‘When I punch, I punch with 10,000 angels backing me up.’ I’m excited to watch him.”
With a smile, Pacquiao nodded and added, simply, “Amen.”
Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank